Authors: Ryk Brown
Dayton Scott sat in front of the big picture window that looked out from his study across the sea of lights from the city below. He had sat in this same chair many times over his seventy-two years. He could still remember sitting on his father’s lap, looking out this same window as his father read to him. He remembered how much smaller Vancouver had been back then. It had just started to bloom, like a rose that had opened up just enough to show its true colors. Nothing more than a distant clump of lights in the night back then, but still a beacon of hope for a world just starting to be reborn. Now the lights filled the entire valley below. Now it was a blazing symbol of prosperity, of accomplishment, and of anticipation of things yet to come. He could still hear his father’s voice telling him,
“Things are already changing, Dayton. By the time you’re my age, everything will be completely different. It’s a great time to be alive, my boy!”
His father had been right, everything had changed. Things he couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams had not only come to be, but were no longer considered wondrous. When he was born, they had just started flying around in propeller-driven aircraft. Now they were building faster-than-light space ships that could take them away from Sol and out to the long lost colonies of Earth. But that sudden, meteoric rise in technology had come at a price. And it was a price he was desperately trying to prevent his world from having to pay.
“Dayton,” his wife beckoned as she entered the room. “We have a house full of guests and you’re hiding in here?” When he failed to offer a response, she became concerned and moved across the study to stand at his side. “What are you doing?”
“Just looking out the window, my dear.”
“Dayton,” she teased, “are you nervous?”
“Maybe just a tad,” he admitted.
“Whatever for? You’ve given a million speeches in your lifetime.”
“But none as important as this one,” he sighed.
She could see the worry on his face. “You’ll do fine, I’m sure,” she promised, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.
The senator smiled at her, placing his hand on hers, about to say something when a knock came at the door. “Yes?”
The door opened to reveal a nondescript man in his mid thirties. He was dressed in a plain dark suit and wore a small transceiver in his left ear.
“Senator?” he asked before spotting him in the chair. “It’s almost time, sir.”
“I’ll be there momentarily.” The senator rose from his seat and put on his dress jacket.
Mrs. Scott straightened her husband’s jacket and adjusted his tie. “As handsome as the day I married you,” she attested before giving him a kiss.
“Did he show up?” the senator asked.
“Oh you know Nathan, I’m sure he’s lurking around here somewhere. Hiding in the shadows, checking out all the pretty young girls in their fancy dresses.”
He knew she was lying. She hadn’t seen him, and she was just trying to keep his mind off of the painful subject. He had hoped that the academy would’ve changed his son for the better. But he was beginning to think that his youngest had already become the man he was going to be.
“Come on, honey. Time to dazzle them with your charm,” she teased as she walked him to the door.
* * *
It was a beautiful summer night, with clear skies that revealed an ocean of stars overhead. The south lawn of the Senator’s palatial estate was packed full of guests, all dressed in their most fashionable evening attire. Some were still finishing their dinners. But most were milling about, talking in little groups as they tried to see, or be seen. In the background, an orchestra was playing selections from the senator’s youth, inspiring some to ignore the evening’s agenda and start dancing, despite disapproving looks from the older, more conservative guests.
The orchestra suddenly stopped in mid chorus, breaking into the upbeat theme song used in the senator’s last campaign. The attention of the crowd suddenly turned toward the top of the stairs that lead from the south entrance of the main house down into the courtyard. When as if by magic, and in perfect timing with the music, two pale-blue spotlights snapped open at the top of the stairs, revealing the senator and his wife. Again, in time with the music, the senator thrust his right hand up into the air in triumph, a gesture made popular at his last victory party. The crowd broke into cheers and thunderous applause, while the senator took his wife’s hand and began their journey down the staircase. The spotlights captured every step as they descended, waving to the crowd, occasionally making special effort to point at those guests they knew best. It was an absolute frenzy of excitement, albeit a perfectly choreographed one.
As the senator reached the bottom of the stairs, his wife let go of his hand and turned to her left, disappearing into the darkness as her spotlight faded out right on cue. The senator, peeling off to the right, broke into a jog, looking fit and full of life despite his age. He made his way up onto the stage and over to the podium, arriving just as the music reached its climax.
“Thank you!” he said, repeating himself several times while he waited for the applause to die down. “Is everyone having a good Founders Day?!” he yelled, whipping them back up into a thunderous roar. He continued waving at the crowd another full minute before the ovation finally died down enough for him to be heard.
“Good, I’m glad everyone is having a good evening. It’s an important day in the history of our world, and it should be celebrated.” The senator looked around the crowd as the last of the applause fell silent. Finally, he launched into the main body of his prepared speech, his tone changing to one more befitting the topic.
“Long ago, humanity was tossed back into a period of darkness and despair the likes of which was unseen in human history. For over a thousand years, our ancestors struggled to survive in the wake of the most devastating disaster ever to befall humankind. A plague of biblical proportions nearly wiped humanity out of existence, leaving only those blessed with a natural immunity to survive and start over. But the great bio-digital plague did more than reduce our populations. It did more than destroy our civilizations and our infrastructures. And it did more than take away our science, culture and technology. It took away our unity as a people. It took away our common dreams and goals. In fact it took away our very will to carry on…”
The senator paused for dramatic effect, scanning the faces standing on his lawn, until he felt that the moment was right to add one word. “…almost.”
“For despite the hardships and despite the pain and suffering. Despite the thousands of mass graves and the countless suicides in the face of utter despair, humanity found a way to carry on. We joined together, in small groups at first, scratching out a meager existence. And in time, things got better. In time, we forgot. We forgot the horror, the despair, and the tragedy. But with each new generation, we also forgot ourselves, who we were, where we came from, and what we had once been. We even forgot that humans just like us were struggling in much the same way on worlds
had colonized out amongst the stars.”
The senator paused again, making eye contact with a few faces in the crowd. He knew that each person whose eyes he met equaled another vote.
“For centuries on end, we merely existed, making little to no attempt to reclaim that which had been lost. But eventually, as our populations grew, necessity again became the mother of invention. Slowly but surely we began to move forward, to rebuild. But we had to relearn all that had been forgotten. We had to conduct the same experiments, the same research and development, and suffer through the same countless failures as we slowly progressed. Until that fateful day of discovery. The day we learned that everything we once were had not been lost, but had only been misplaced. It was the day that humanity would regain all that had been taken from us. It was the day the Data Ark was discovered!”
“Jeez,” the young man mumbled as he sipped his cocktail. “You’d think he had been there himself.” He finished his drink, setting it back down as he gestured to the bartender for a refill before turning back to face the stage. From his position at the end of the bar, he could see across the sea of supporters—‘his father’s flock’ as he liked to call them—all mesmerized by his oratory.
“There you are.” The young woman leaned against the bar next to him, tucking in close to keep the evening breeze from chilling her bare shoulders. “How long have you been hiding out back here?”
“Since the moment I arrived.” He turned to face her, giving her a small kiss on the cheek. “How have you been, sis?”
“Nice choice of attire there, Nathan,” she said, noticing his dress uniform. “Just couldn’t pass up a chance to stick it to the old man, huh?”
“Yeah, well, you know what Pop always says about missed opportunities…”
“…Are lost advantages,” she finished for him. “Don’t remind me.” She picked up his drink and took a sip, her face puckering at the bitterness of the alcohol. “Since when do you drink the hard stuff?”
“How else am I going to get through this?”
“You talk to Mom yet?”
“I’ve been trying to avoid that.”
Nathan’s sister looked to the right side of the crowd, spotting her mother standing to one side, talking to a small group of people. “There she is.” She started to jump up and down, waving.
“Stop it!” Nathan grabbed her arm, pulling it back down as she giggled. She had always enjoyed pushing his buttons. “Are you nuts? She’ll see us.” He looked toward his mother, trying to determine if she had spotted them. She was speaking to an older gentlemen and a young blonde woman, and as best he could tell, his sister’s wave had gone unnoticed.
“Who’s the blonde she’s talking to?”
“Relax, little brother. She’s not your type. Some scientist or something,” she explained. “So, are you ready for the media circus?”
“For the what?”
“The media circus. You know, the press, the paparazzi?”
“What are you talking about, Miri?”
“Haven’t you talked to Dad yet?” she asked, somewhat surprised.
“Been trying to avoid
even more. Why?”
“Oh, nothing,” she lied. “Never mind,” she added, deciding to let her younger brother be surprised like all the other guests.
“What? Tell me?” he demanded, noticing the sly little smile on her face. He had seen that grin too many times in his life, and knew full well it meant trouble.
“Shush! Your father is giving a speech,” she teased.
Nathan turned back to the bar and picked up his drink. “When isn’t he giving a speech?” he muttered to himself, taking another sip.
“Founders Day is the moment in history when humanity finally took responsibility for its future. As a whole, we made a commitment to ensure that all of the reclaimed technological wonders of our forefathers would be used wisely, for the betterment of all humanity, and not just the few that could afford them. The founding of the Ark Institute and the tenants upon which it was based would one day lead to the creation of the very republic which provides for and protects the entire population of the Earth today! It was that moment, that one perfect moment, that simple clarity of purpose that quickly brought all of the people of Earth together in a way that had never been done before. The knowledge bestowed upon us by the Data Ark has done more to change and improve our lives over the last century than all of the centuries of darkness that came before.”
Senator Scott paused again, this time more so to take a sip of water than for dramatic effect. “But those same improvements can easily lure us back into that very same darkness and despair.”
“Man, he is
laying it on thick tonight. What’s he running for this time?” Nathan looked at Miri. Her smile had grown larger. “You’re kidding me?” He had suddenly realized what she had been smiling about. “Are you serious?”
Miri just laughed at him. “You should see your face.”
Nathan turned to the bartender again, “Bring me the bottle.”
“Oh, come on Nate, it won’t be that bad.”
He took the bottle from the bartender and poured himself a double, tossing the entire contents of the shot glass down his throat before refilling it.
Miri continued laughing. “What are you trying to do, pickle your liver?”
“Haven’t you heard, they can grow new ones now.” He picked up his glass and tossed down another shot. As he grimaced from the burning sensation of the alcohol, he noticed a young woman stepping up to the other end of the bar. “I think I could use a distraction.”
Miri looked past him at the new arrival. “Naw, I don’t think
your type either.”